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Washington and California state wineries making Merlot great again

Written By | Apr 14, 2018
Merlot, Washington, California, Wineries

Image by Duane Pemberton

SEATTLE, April 14, 2018 — For some reason, Merlot has lost its way with many wine lovers. Washington and California wineries are working to change that. Cabernet Sauvignon continues its soaring success as the biggest money-making red varietal in the world. However, its brother, Merlot, is equally as amazing but for different reasons. American Cabernet Sauvignon wines present a great deal of red fruits like raspberries, cherries, strawberry, and pomegranate. Merlot typically has dark fruit notes like blackberry, Marionberry, plums, and blueberries.

Left bank Bordeaux (vineyards to the south of the Garonne and Gironde rivers) are Cabernet Sauvignon dominate while the right bank (vineyards to the north of the Dordogne and Gironde Rivers) are Merlot dominant. However, you’ll still find a splash of one or the other in nearly all Bordeaux wines which feature nuances of both grapes.

For this round-up, we went with American wine producers and are confident you’ll fall in love with at least one, if not all of them. Washington State wineries do dominate our list in that, over the past 20 years, have been emerging as a world-class Merlot producing region.

Merlots from Washington State

With its longer days in the summer and cooler nights, Washington State offers nearly sublime growing conditions for Merlot. Napa Valley is still producing amazing Merlot as well. However, it’s becoming scarcer as there’s more profitability in Cabernets from that region.

Nonetheless, each wine had to be at least 75% Merlot.

2014 Longshadows Vintners Pedestal Merlot – $50

Black cherries, granite, coffee, dark chocolate, plums, currant, leather glove, and cigar wrapper. The wine is exhibiting a lot of youth – even though it’s nearly four years old, there is already a higher than normal pH for a Pedestal Merlot. It has a lot of depth of character that and cascading waves of flavors of what we love about Merlot.

Sure, it has a supporting cast of other grapes blended-in to help “round things out” but this Merlot dominate wine is among one of the better ones you’ll find in the New World.

2014 Pepper Bridge Merlot – $50

This very young wine needs time – several hours at least – to open up. Once it does, however, your palate will thank you. With gorgeous notes of bramble, blackberry compote, black peppercorn, road tar, cigar box, and star anise, this Merlot deserves your attention. A stellar tannin structure is highlighted by solid acids, lingering dark fruit and a finish that feels as if it may linger for hours. A wine that needs more time in the bottle, you can drink it now after a few hours in a decanter or hold for up to 10-15 years.

2012 Northstar Winery – Columbia Valley Merlot $50

Blackberry pie filling, baking spices, pink peppercorn, mushroom, plum sauce, tobacco leaf and dark chocolate. A superbly layered Merlot that still exhibits very youthful tannins that could use several more years in bottle to simmer down a bit.

Even though it’s a six-year-old vintage, it’s still very young. It’s long, dark fruit flavors along with the nice hints of cigar and dark cocoa hang out in a very long finish. Drink now or hold for 8-15 more years.

2015 Mark Ryan Long Haul – $45

Notes of red currants, peppered black raspberries, plum compote, leather, star anise, black cherries, and violet. A wine that’s easy to drink after it opens up. It is a very easy-to-drink wine with solid tannins and acidity to help it play well with food.

Drink now after a few hours of decanting or hold for at least eight more years.

2015 Columbia Crest Reserve Merlot: $30

Tar-laced blackberries, graphite dust, squid ink, leather, tobacco and bitter chocolate make this wine a stand out vintage.  The bitter cocoa component is on the front end of the palate along with the black fruits laced into it. Stellar acids, tight tannins – still a very young wine.

2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot: $15

Blackberry bramble, cigar smoke, dark chocolate, spice, and leather. A healthy dose of cigar-laden blackberry/Marionberry compote along that’s poured into a leather baseball glove.

Nice integration of tannins and acid as well. Drink now or hold for 5-8 years.


California Merlot:
2014 MadoroM Napa Valley Merlot: $60

A very young wine that’s structured to age at least 10-12 years. Bring on the tidal wave of black currant, plum sauce, blackberries, leather glove, tar bubble and dark chocolate. The oak is very prominent at this stage in the wine’s development because of the 100% new French Oak barrels used.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Merlot: $35

Red cherry component up front that’s followed by hints of vanilla, black tea, plums, black currant and blackberry pie. A complex layer of fruit with currant and spice – which comes from its twenty-one months on American oak. A wine that really needs a great deal more time in the bottle.

2015 Merryvale Merlot – $50

Notes of graphite, violet, plums, rose petal, hibiscus, cinnamon, and clove. A wickedly delicious Merlot with a substantial amount of what I refer to as “grip-tape” (think of grip tape on a skateboard) – in this case, it refers to the way the tannins grip your palate and help steer the delicious wine across the various parts of your palate. It has a superb combination of fruit, acid, and tannin. Drink now after a couple of hours in the decanter or hold for the next 8-12 years.

2014 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley – $50

A wine that’s still very youthful and needs to time to open up or lay down for at least the next three years.  Dried figs, blackberry, bramble, leather, coffee, cedar, black peppercorns are all present. On the palate: Lush layers of blueberry compote, lightly roasted coffee, dark cocoa, cedar with good acids and well-integrated tannins.

2014 Ehlers Estate Merlot: $55

Blackberry, bramble, a bit of forest floor funk, boysenberries, leather glove, violets and red currant and dark chocolate topped with fresh-cracked peppercorns. This wine that does a great job of melding the delicious fruit, tannin, and acid into a lingering finish. In fact, at a pH of 3.59 – this wine should lay down 12-20 years. Easily one of the best wine values you’ll find out of the Napa Valley.

2014 Matthiason Merlot: $45

Bramble, black cherries, black raspberry, cocoa, vanilla, leather, cedar box, an old pipe. A tasty Merlot that comes across a tad light on the palate than others in this round-up. It doesn’t have much of the dark fruit we see in others, and I like it.

Very firm, youthful tannin speak of this wine’s young age. It’s a Merlot that pairs great with pizza, smoked meats, and pasta dishes.

2014 Grgich Hills Merlot: $43

From one of the pioneers of the Napa Valley, Mike Grgich this classic Merlot exhibits black cherry, cocoa, red currant, herbs and some forest floor/mushroom action. Grgich does a very nice job of integrating the flavors, tannin, and acidity and the extended finish of this wine make it an easy drinker that pairs very well with meat or game.

The Merlot wines tasted in this round-up easily include some of the best you’ll find currently being produced in the USA. Even the fifteen-dollar Chateau Saint Michelle Cold Creek represents a solid value and would make a great launching pad for you to try the others.

No matter which one you start with on this list, I encourage you to try them all. You’ll soon see that there’s a whole lot of reasons to fall in love with Merlot and help make Merlot great again.

Duane Pemberton

Duane Pemberton is a lifestyle writer and CDNs Auto Editor. Pemberton loves anything that helps bring people together which is why he writes about food, wine, cars, and travel.